Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Keselowski giving Johnson all he can handle in Chase

Johnson and Keselowski gave us a great show at Texas (Getty)
By Micah Roberts

I thought we had a barn burner during last seasons Chase for the Championship where Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards were tied at seasons end with the same amount of points, with Stewart winning the tie-breaker due to season wins. I didn’t think we’d ever see anything that close again, but here we are a year later and five-time Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson holds a slight 7-point edge over the unflappable young Brad Keselowski.

I gained a ton of respect towards Keselowski over the weekend at Texas, even though he lost ground by five-points to Johnson despite finishing second to him in the race Sunday. My fascination with him actually began on Friday when Johnson sat on the pole. Starting up front doesn’t mean a driver is going to win a race, but at this juncture of the season, it could have toyed with Keselowski’s mind a little bit and taken him off his game.

When Saturday came around for the final practice sessions, Keselowski was not only fastest in single lap and 10-consecutive lap speeds in the first session, he was also fastest in the final session. It was in that moment that I started to figure that Keselowski isn’t going anywhere and if there were mind games to be played, it was Keselowski who was getting under Johnson’s skin.

There is way more pressure on Johnson to win this thing than Keselowski. No one expects Keselowski to win, but it is expected of Johnson. As Johnson has shown throughout his career, he doesn’t get rattled too easily. But knowing that he would have to beat Keselowski on Sunday when the No. 2 car was fastest in both sessions had to be running through Johnson’s mind in a negative way.

Johnson responded on race day with the win, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying by Keselowski. Between gambling on a late two-tire pit stop to gain track position and bumping and banging at 180 mph with Johnson -- who had fresher tires, I came away thinking that Keselowski is now one of my favorite drivers ever. Here’s a guy who averaged a 25th finish position at Texas over his first eight starts, and manned up when it counted most with a runner-up. Love that!

I think it’s the loner aspect of Keselowski that makes him so endearing. It’s him against the world. He’s the only competitive driver among the two Dodgers in the series. He had to endure scrutiny from the likes of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in his first two years when they called him Brad Krash-a-lot-ski, but mostly it was because he never backed down to anyone. He doesn't let the other drivers bully him.

Now here he is, going toe-to-toe against one of the all-time greats in NASCAR, with two races to go. It’s like the big underdogs in the Super Bowl where the Patriots can’t be beat by the Giants, or how the Patriots had no shot against the Rams. I’m not saying Keselowski will win, but there are other little minds games that go on in the heads of Champions that allow for them to not be at their best when it counts sometimes where a David can beat Goliath.

The LVH Super Book adjusted odds have Johnson as a -275 favorite with Keselowski at +225 heading into Phoenix this week. 

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